BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — October marks the start of flu season and this upcoming one will be something no one has experienced before as the pandemic continues. Experts and officials warn it could be a challenging fall.
“The severity of every given flu season is difficult to predict,” Dr. Thomas Russo, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, said.
COVID-19 and influenza symptoms are nearly identical. The only real difference, Dr. Russo said, is the loss of taste and smell in COVID cases.
“Therefore testing will become very important in this setting,” he added.
Flu season typically lasts from October to April. Last season, New York saw the peak at the beginning of February. The first coronavirus case was not identified until March.
“I think it’s best if we assume, that we could have a bad flu year and we want to take every precaution possible to minimize the chances of a widespread outbreak in Western New York,” Dr. Russo said.
He believed practices like mask wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing will help curb the spread of influenza.
“In fact that’s already been shown from a couple of studies coming out of the Southern Hemisphere which are just coming out of their flu season right now,” he said.
However, Dr. Russo said there is the potential of getting both the flu and COVID at the same time. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brought up another concern during a Thursday morning conference call with reporters.
“If they now have to do flu tests and COVID tests, that could affect the turnaround time on the COVID tests,” Cuomo said. He announced $30 million dollars for counties to use to both increase contact tracing and prepare for flu vaccinations and tests.
“This is the time where we have to really double-down and be more rigorous than ever in terms of observing all of these public health measures,” the infectious diseases expert, Dr. Russo, said. His biggest takeaway was to get a flu shot and get a flu shot early.
At least two pharmacy chains are busy preparing for the upcoming flu season. A spokesperson for Wegmans said the store has contacted thousands of pharmacy patients over the age of 65. At this point, Wegmans does not expect there to be any delays when it comes to flu vaccinations that are expected to arrive at the end of August.
"Our immunizations rooms will be sanitized between each customer, and we already have disinfecting procedures in place in our pharmacies. We will have minimal contact with customer and avoid paperwork when possible," Wegmans spokesperson Michele Mehaffy said in an email.
Walgreens released this statement:
“Walgreens has a long history of stepping up to support our communities, and providing flu shots is another way we’re providing accessible care for our patients and protecting communities from vaccine preventable diseases. This is particularly important during the pandemic in anticipation of heightened consumer awareness and desire to be protected this flu season, which health officials warn may coincide with COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, Walgreens continues to meet or exceed CDC guidelines for safety and precautions. Pharmacy team members are required to wear facemasks at all times and wear face shields while administering vaccinations for additional protection. Prior to administration of an immunization, our pharmacists will screen patients for presences of symptoms or illness, and defer immunizations if the patient has a fever or other symptoms associated with illness. Patients must also wear a face covering when receiving an immunization, and will be provided a disposable facemask if they do not have their own. Other safety measures already in place include enhanced cleaning regimens, social distancing protocols and plexiglass shields at registers.
Further, Walgreens has been working closely with our manufacturers to ensure there is adequate supply of flu vaccine for this upcoming flu season. At this time, our flu vaccine manufacturers do not anticipate product shortages or delays. Throughout the flu season, Walgreens works in collaboration with Walgreens Boots Alliance globally to establish early warning signs of infection spread, share key learnings across geographies, and adapt quickly.
Walgreens encourages patients to complete paper work prior to coming to the pharmacy for an immunization to improve the patient experience and decrease time spent in the pharmacy. Patients may also schedule an appointment in advance through our online scheduler [walgreens.com].
We want our patients to know that we are there to help in any way we can and are taking the precautions necessary to keep our communities safe. Walgreens will continue to follow CDC guidance as they update their recommendations on when and how best to safely administer immunizations in a pharmacy setting.”